Monday’s Westerville Board of Education meeting ended with tears from attendees and board members as longtime member Cindy Crowe announced her resignation.
Crowe, who has served on the board for more than 14 years, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in March 2013. Though her mind remains sharp, her declining physical health made it too difficult to serve.
“My goal was to stay on the Westerville board until January and welcome the new board members. I felt good and decided to take it one day at a time,” Crowe said in a prepared statement, aided by a computer voice modulator. “After all, I still wanted to have input on the directions in elementary schools. This is when the disease began to deceive me. My body has deteriorated but my brain has remained sharp.
“I have been living my dream over the past 14 years and it is with a heavy heart that I submit my resignation from the Westerville Board of Education effective May 19, 2014,” Crowe said.
ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the nerve cells in the spinal cord and the brain. Motor neurons that travel from the brain to the spinal cord begin to fail as the disease progresses, and slowly cause the body to fail.
Despite her diagnosis, Crowe continued to serve the community and advocated for education during her entire career. She holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and was active in various community associations and organizations, including the Westerville Education Foundation and the Rotary Club of Westerville.
During her tenure on the board, she has advocated for reasonable teacher-student ratios in the classroom and early intervention in reading and math.
Board member Tracy Davidson said some of Crowe’s biggest achievements were establishing the anti-bullying campaign Challenge Day in all three high schools and promoting Reading Recovery program initiatives in the schools.
Crowe was also a board member when Westerville Central High School and Fouse Elementary School opened their doors.
“She has always been a huge advocate for our kids,” Davidson said. “Education has been her thing. She is in pain, but she continues to try and find a cure and educate people.”
Since her diagnosis, she continued to educate the public by informing them about her disease and promoting research for a cure.
“This disease has only strengthened my commitment and dedication to finding a cure,” Crowe said. “Why does ALS continue to be such a progressive and fatal disease with today’s medical capabilities? We need to raise awareness and find a cure for ALS.”
Nancy Nestor-Baker, president of the board, said Crowe’s commitment helped bring people together and promote education. Her resignation is a big loss for the community, she said.
“It’s that kind of heart and that kind of soul that brings the district together,” Nestor-Baker said. “And so when you lose a piece of that heart and a piece of that soul, we all have to step forward and do what we can to fill in for her.”
Crowe’s elected term expires December 2015. The board will interview potential candidates in a search for her replacement. There is no set timeline to find Crowe’s successor.
Board member and friend Rick Vilardo said he was saddened by the resignation and lamented the loss for the district.
“She has a tenacious spirit. She fought through this disease, she has fought through other health difficulties with her family, and she has always tried to put the children and their education first,” Vilardo said. “While I completely understand her reasons for doing this, I am going to miss her databank of knowledge.
“ALS robs the body, but the mind is still very strong and we have to figure out ways to hold on to some of that wisdom she has.”
The Westerville Board of Education will meet next at 6 p.m. May 19 at the Early Learning Center, 936 Eastwind Drive.